Orange County homeless camp clean-up: 404 tons of debris

Last month Orange County, California was finally given a judge’s approval to clear out a homeless encampment that had been growing along the Santa Ana River beside a public bike path. After a legal battle involving the ACLU which lasted for months, the camp was finally removed in late February. Today, the Orange County Register published the final tally on what was collected at the site according to OC Public Works:

Orange County Public Works released eye-popping figures Thursday, March 8, on the total amount of debris, needles and hazardous waste removed when crews cleaned up the area along the Santa Ana River Trail once populated by the encampments of homeless people.

Here’s what was collected between Jan. 22 and March 3 from a more than two-mile stretch of bike trail roughly from I-5 in Orange to Ball Road in Anaheim, according to OC Public Works spokesman Shannon Widor:

  • 404 tons of debris

  •  13,950 needles

  • 5,279 pounds of hazardous waste (human waste)

As you can see from the number of needles recovered there is a serious drug problem among homeless people. And there were reports that drug dealers who moved in to sell to the population had warned residents of the camp against calling the police for any reason. The camp became a lawless zone where fights and even rape went unreported to authorities.

In addition to cleaning up the area, many of the people living there are also being given help and a better place to live (at least temporarily). As of last month, 544 people had left the camp and either accepted a hotel voucher or gone to a shelter. Another 100 or so remained. Police warned they would eventually resort to arresting people who refused to leave the area, where it has never been legal to camp overnight. Orange County now plans to make improvements to the cleared land, including replacing a large amount of topsoil which, I suspect, is heavily contaminated with human waste.

The real test will be whether the county can keep the homeless from returning. There are an estimated 5,000 homeless in the county and many thousands more in LA County to the north. A cleared, refurbished site like the bike path along the Santa Ana River will always be prime real estate for those looking for somewhere to set up camp. Keeping the area a place for public recreation will require consistent effort on the part of OC authorities.

OC Public Works released this drone footage comparing the area along the bike path on 1/30/18 to how it looked about a month later on 2/26/18. It’s not completely clear but you can see some areas already showed a vast improvement.